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Passengers

Arthur the android bartender: “You can’t get so hung up on where you'd rather be, that you forget to make the most of where you are.”

This movie, released in 2016, has two passengers trapped together on a traveling spaceship. In this more than a year of pandemic, when the coronavirus has trapped so many of us alone, or trapped others in bubbles with only a few family members, Passengers seems especially relevant. Warning! This review contains serious spoilers.

Here’s a quick plot summary: the Avalon, carrying 5000 passengers and 258 crew members, is on a 120-year journey to another planet. Everyone is asleep and expects to remain that way until a few months before they reach the colony planet. 30 years into the journey, the Avalon’s shield proves inadequate for a large meteor that damages the ship and wakes one unfortunate passenger, Jim Preston. Jim’s slow realization that he is the only passenger awake and that he has no way to return to sleep is alarming. His only companion is Arthur, an android bartender. Jim improves his circumstances by moving into the Vienna Suite, but he’s still stuck in a kilometer of solitude.

I related to his deterioration during his time alone. What’s the point in showering? Do the dishes or not? Vacuum or not? Eat the candy bar or not? Work in bed or get dressed? I have been fortunate, even when alone during the pandemic, in the fact that my video chats have forced me to keep to a mostly reasonable schedule. Still, my isolation during the pandemic was a lesson for me, that despite my introversion, other people are necessary.

Jim Preston is not an introvert and he becomes so lonely that he is ready to kill himself. Instead, he sees Aurora in her hibernation pod and becomes interested in her, and yes, attracted to her. He watches the videos she recorded for the journey. He has breakfast with her and talks to her. And he considers waking her up, so that he will no longer be alone – but he also knows this means stranding her on the ship as well.

I have read other reviews on the movie. Most professional reviewers are horrified, with the opinion that Jim Preston is stalking Aurora Lane and that it is creepy. This interpretation is reasonable. On the other hand, stalkers in the real world have options, such as establishing normal relationships with other people. Jim Preston, the only human awake on the Avalon, cannot do that. Besides the android bartender he has no interactions at all.

Preston hesitates for months before waking her up, but finally does. The crescendo of the music after he wakes her, after he runs back to his quarters, is such that he is completely aware of the horrible thing he has done. He has ruined her life, trapping her on the ship with him. He made the choice for her, an especially horrible deed for a man forcing a woman (and let us not kid ourselves, one reason for choosing Aurora is that she is sexually appealing to him). Furthermore, Jim is aware how wrong this action was. The rest of the movie is devoted, in fact, to redeeming his action.

Aurora goes through the stages Jim went through, trying to get back to sleep, trying to find a way out of their problem. Jim’s guilt is increased by the fact that he learns that Aurora Lane had other plans, a life goal not mentioned in her recorded interviews as it could have disqualified her as a passenger. She planned to return to earth with a great story, including an expose on the Homestead company. This book of hers is now impossible.

After months of isolation and finally being rejoined by my husband, I had to go through an adjustment period and Jim does too. That is part of the reason he doesn’t press her for anything. Finally he asks her out, but he does it via a robot, which makes sense. These two people are trapped together, and if she is not interested, he needs to minimize awkwardness.

They go on a date (fortunately the restaurants function for them, and Jim is able to order shrimp even though the breakfast bar refuses to serve him designer coffee). They even do a spacewalk together and go to bed together. They have months of happiness together. Then android Arthur, who believes there are no secrets between Jim and Aurora, lets slip that Jim deliberately woke her up. Aurora is so upset at first that she literally cannot see straight. She remains rightfully furious. Jennifer Lawrence’s extensive acting talents are on full display.

The ship continues to suffer minor outages and then another hibernation pod fails, this time waking up Gus Mancuso, a deck chief, who moves the plot along. He physically feels terrible; he knows something must be wrong in the ship; he doesn’t want to have to sit in on judgment on their problems – but there is no one else. Gus condemns Jim, but he understands it. His ID bracelet gives them access to the entire ship. When they can finally run the diagnostics, Aurora’s eyes light up when she sees when the whole thing began and Jim was woken up by his hibernation pod failure. She moves a step forward toward forgiving him at that point.

Mancuso dies and the Avalon is still in trouble. Because it takes so long for people to recover when they wake from hibernation, Jim and Aurora do not have the time to wake up more crew; instead, they must save the ship themselves. Of course, as this is a movie, they manage to do this. During this Jim nearly dies and Aurora realizes she does not want to live on the ship without him; in fact, Aurora confronts how awful the idea of being completely alone in the Avalon for the rest of her life would be.

Then Jim discovers that with the command mode of the AutoDoc, Aurora could go back to sleep and wake up after the Avalon reaches its destination. This returns agency to her, and essentially undoes his bad deed – he did not keep the information from her – and then she has the choice whether or not to stay with him.

Let’s return to the big question. Should Jim have woken her up or not? The immediate ethical response is no; he was stealing her life. However, if we’re considering outcome-based morality, which is what all morality is ultimately based upon, we should consider various scenarios. What if the ship, in danger, were not to make it? Then Preston’s action, waking her up before reaching the planet, actually gives her an additional year of living.

In the end Aurora fulfills her own personal goal – writing an extraordinary story based on an extraordinary life, as their actions saved 5000+ people on the ship. As the Avalon approaches the colony planet, and as our heroes are presumably dead, we watch the crew waking up and discovering that the Grand Concourse is full of trees and chickens.

Title musings. Passengers refers to all the bodies in suspended animation, but it also refers, in a rather obvious metaphor, to our own life journeys. We’re all trapped to a certain extent by our position on Earth, in where we are with respect to space and time. Sometimes I’m grateful to be older than most of the other reviewers here, because I could experience the planet before so much of its biodiversity was threatened. Other times I wish I had been born later, when some medical stuff had been discovered. We are trapped, too, by our own genetics. We may want to go one direction - I would love to have wings so I could fly - but life takes us elsewhere.

Bits and pieces

Almost every show with space travel treats the passage of time incorrectly, and Passengers is no exception. In the real universe, as opposed to a fictional universe, the faster a body travels, the slower its proper time. Therefore, more time would pass on Earth (and Homestead II) than on the Avalon. Jim Preston and Aurora Lane could expect not to die on the journey. However, this is counterintuitive as well as inconvenient for most stories and so nearly every show ignores it.

When Jim Preston is woken out of suspended animation, he is rolled over to an area where he is scanned for potential health issues. When Gus Mancuso, the deck chief, is woken, you would think he would undergo the same medical scanning procedure and his physical problems would be addressed or at least noted.

Although necessary for the plot, I think it is highly unlikely that it would be impossible to get back to sleep. Even if there has never been a hibernation pod failure before (or have the Homestead company’s other hibernation pod failures been kept secret?) there can be occasions when the ship would need to wake up a crewmember for the safety of the ship. Like in Passengers.

It seems unlikely that Preston could never make his way into the crew sleeping quarters, but again this was needed for the plot.

Jennifer Lawrence is stunning, and whoever designed her costumes makes good use of the actor’s assets. Note the number of outfits that are sheer or have holes in them.

When Aurora is dragging the inert Jim Preston to the AutoDoc, I had to wonder why she didn’t put him on something with wheels. Chris Pratt is not a small guy.

Aurora is the of the goddess of the dawn in Roman mythology. It is also name of the princess in Sleeping Beauty, which is on the nose.

I wonder if they could have both fit into the AutoDoc and gone to sleep for the next 88 years?

The ship-fixing robots are rather cute, and they repair the damage after our heroes save the Avalon.

Quotes

Arthur: Jim, these are not robot questions.

Aurora: Why did you do it?
Jim (full of guilt): Do what?

Aurora: My dad used to say, "If you live an ordinary life, all you'll have are ordinary stories. You have to live a life of adventure." So... Here I am.

Aurora: You went shopping.
Jim: I went shop-lifting.

Aurora: I don’t care what you want! You stole my life!

Gus Mancuso: This is Deck Chief Gus Mancuso. Who the hell planted a tree on my ship?

Gus Mancuso: And all this time I was thinking you're one lucky sonofabitch to get stuck with Aurora. It wasn’t luck, was it?
Jim: No.

Gus Mancuso: You're right, Aurora. But the drowning man will always try and drag somebody down with him. It ain't right, but the man's drowning.

AutoDoc: I’m sorry. The patient is dead.

Overall Rating

The film is beautiful and there is great chemistry between the leads. I appreciate that some viewers can’t get past what Preston does, but it brings up an interesting dilemma – and if he had not done it, thousands of people would have died. The dialogue is only so-so, but the story got me thinking – a lot! – or I would not have written such a long review. Three out of four ship-fixing robots.

Victoria Grossack loves math, Greek mythology, Jane Austen and great storytelling in many forms.

6 comments:

Billie Doux said...

Victoria, you're so right about this movie echoing the pandemic.

I enjoyed Passengers right up until the point, as you mentioned, where he woke her up -- and then I was so pissed about it that the movie never got me back, even though the ending was really lovely.

Samantha M. Quinn said...

I watched this in the theater and for the most part I was captivated by the spectacle and not the moral implications. I knew what he did was wrong, but thought the story addressed the deed and the consequences rather well.

Then I went and started reading reviews and found that my reaction was in the minority, and most people were pissed at the audacity of a movie having a main character make a bad choice and then have to figure out how to fix it. I mean that's never happened in the history of cinema before, right?

What sold this for me is the year of isolation, and the months of hesitation as his sanity began to fray. This was not a well person, at the point of suicide when he made the choice to wake her. I would argue that he wasn't in his right mind, and the burgeoning relationship with them, while based on a lie, healed him to the point where he could make good choices again. That's why his sacrifice makes sense.

I also agree with you Victoria, from an external point of view his actions, while selfish, saved the ship. That has to count for something. I've seen this about three times all together, and I can enjoy the romance and the sheer beauty of the sets and visual effects, and get lost in the love story. I've already forgiven Jim on a previous watch, and now I can just enjoy their story. But that's just me.

Thank you for the thoughtful review!

Katerina said...

I remember having mixed feelings about this movie. Maybe I should watch it again with the added perspective of the pandemic. I do remember thinking, though, that they missed an opportunity at the end. I expected everyone to wake up and find grown children of the two taking care of the ship. -And maybe grandchildren if any other pods had failed. (I know there's the argument against bringing children into that environment with everyone else sleeping, but I think it would have been cool. They could have decided a human presence
to help with potential problems in future justified it.)

Victoria Grossack said...

I think they would have considered it too irresponsible and too cruel to have children, so they decided against it. Or maybe one, who at age 21 they put into the AutoDoc? But as for the potential ship problems, if any were anticipated, they should have woken members of the crew, as that would be much more effective than trying to grow a future engineer. And perhaps they should have woken a doctor, who could have put them all back to sleep.

I liked the glimpse of the android on the Grand Concourse at the end, one that had served shrimp before, coming down on the side. Maybe Jim and Aurora trained it to take care of the trees and the chickens.

Brent said...

I've been lurking in the site for a while and, thoroughly enjoy it and many of your reviews, decided to comment on this since I recently watched it for the first time. I think it got a lot of negative criticism because of how they marketed it. They intentionally made it seem as if they both woke up at the same time. Even the back of the blu-ray makes it seem like they woke up at the same time. As for the movie I understood why he did it, and while I don't agree with it he did need help to save the ship. If he had waited and woken someone when the ship started having problems they would have possibly come out of hibernation as poorly as Mancuso. Overall a decent movie that can really make you think what you would in that situation. Sorry for the long post.

Victoria Grossack said...

Brent, your post was not long at all - thanks for stepping out of lurker mode to comment.